The UpStream

Google Doubles Down on Unbelievably Confusing Messaging Strategy

posted Saturday Apr 21, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Google Doubles Down on Unbelievably Confusing Messaging Strategy

Over the past few years, it has been nearly impossible to understand what Google is up to when it comes to messaging. They have rolled out several services, all with a similar and tragic fate: abandonment. When the service isn't abandoned entirely, it has features stolen for another platform, as was the case with Google Hangouts, which lost features to Google Allo. Google Allo, the not quite WhatsApp clone, is the most recent service to be abandoned by the company. The service was never widely accepted, possibly because at launch the service didn't really work - at least not how anyone would have wanted.

The service launched with only an iPhone (not iPad) and Android phone (not tablet) app. To use the app, you needed to use your phone number (like WhatsApp), but only on a single device. If you logged in using the same number, the original device would log out and delete your profile and chats. It seemed that absolutely nothing was saved on the internet. That also explained why it took a full year before you could use the service on desktop, though the sign-in process was even more insane and still only supported a single desktop.

After only 19 months in service, Allo is officially being retired. That's probably file, being as no one was using it. The entire development team is being transitioned to a new project within Google named Chat (not Google Chat). While it would seem that Google's next desperate attempt at messaging would be an Android-focused close of iMessage, the company has another idea that is even less likely to succeed.

Chat is designed to be a carrier-backed Rich Communication Services platform, intended to help carriers support the decade-old messaging standard. RCS supports almost everything that iMessage supports, while being carrier and platform agnostic. In the US, the big 4 all support various and fragmented versions of RCS, but only Sprint supports the full standard. Chat would give carriers another way to implement the technology. Interestingly, the reason Sprint supports the full standard is because they use a platform called Google Jibe, which seems like it would be a direct competitor to Chat, another confusing decision from the company.

Google has worked with most of the carriers around the world, as well as over 50 manufacturers, to implement the technology. While Google claims that they expect it to be available within the year, comments from some carriers suggest otherwise. T-Mobile is expected to be complete in by the end of June, but Verizon and AT&T have not announced a timeline, while US Cellular has said they have no plans to implement it at all.

In addition to phased roll-out, the other issue with Chat being carrier-dependent is that, like SMS, it is not encrypted communication. That means that it will be susceptible to the same privacy issues as SMS. Governments can request your Chat history from your carrier, and the data they receive will be easily readable. Since RCS is internet-powered, someone on an unprotected Wi-Fi network could also get your data. This is different from how iMessage, Signal and Telegram, which are similar services, all perform, being fully encrypted.

YouTube Might Be Collecting Information about Children Illegally

posted Saturday Apr 14, 2018 by Scott Ertz

YouTube Might Be Collecting Information about Children Illegally

It's no secret that YouTube repeatedly finds themselves in trouble with one problem or another. Whether it be drive-by cryptominers in advertising or racism from its young comedians, there always seems to be a controversy going on with the network.

One of the repeated issues the company has experienced revolves around how they interact with kids. Previously, in their YouTube Kids app, their algorithms began allowing non-family friendly content to appear. In addition, on videos that are family friendly, incredibly sexual comments were appearing, as well. That ended with the company changing their policies, including curating the content manually, as opposed to by computer.

This week, YouTube's trouble with kids has increased. A collection of advocacy groups, numbering over 20, has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming that YouTube has knowingly violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa). The law was passed in 1998 and expanded in 2012, and requires that companies that collect information about children acquire parental permission first. This law is the reason why many websites, including YouTube, require you to be 13 years old or older to use the service.

In the case of YouTube, their terms of service state that by using the service you agree that you are at least 13 years old, with the exception being YouTube Kids. The complaint, however, asserts that YouTube and parent Google are fully aware that kids under the age of 13 are using the service, including creating YouTube accounts, and willfully collect information about these kids and their browsing history without parental consent.

The group has plenty of proof of this, simply by looking at some of the videos on the site and the continuation of video trends specifically featuring children. However, the real problem that YouTube will be facing is the fact that the company has been running ads specifically targeted at younger audiences, on the primary service and not YouTube Kids. If they can convince the FTC of these facts, which seems fairly straight-forward, Google with almost certainly be facing another round of fines and a forced change to their business processes. More importantly, though, it will create a better environment for kids who are, without question, using the site.

Google Loses UK Case Forcing Public Data to be 'Forgotten'

posted Saturday Apr 14, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Google Loses UK Case Forcing Public Data to be 'Forgotten'

If you're unaware that the internet is having a renewed interest in privacy, then you have not been following the news. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent part of the week in front of Congress because another company violated Facebook's terms of service. It has reminded people that many people regularly give personal information to a small number of companies, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

However, some companies collect a lot of information about us without us having to give it over. Google collects information about your browsing history, and browses the web on its own looking for information about any and all subjects. The browsing is what powers their primary service, Google Search. However, there are a lot of people who have done stupid things that have been immortalized by the internet and made searchable by Google.

In the European Union, a program called the Right to be Forgotten was implemented by Google, Bing, Yahoo and more. This program allows a person to petition the search engines to remove a listing that creates personal harm. None of the companies were keep to implement this ability, as it directly affects the quality of the search index, which means that the value of the search results is lowered.

Of course, there are a lot of incidents that don't need to be preserved. College applicants lose out on school because of a photo on Instagram. Job applicants lose out on a career because of something they posted on Facebook. But some information is entirely public, and therefore should be searchable. For example, if you have an arrest record, it's easy to find that information. Here in the Tampa Bay area, the counties themselves provide a way to look up arrest information.

In the UK, a suit was filed against Google by two in-named men, referred to as NT1 and NT2, for the company refusing to remove information from their search index upon request. Both of these men had arrest records and convictions: NT1 was convicted in the early 90s for conspiracy to account falsely, and NT2 was convicted in the early 2000s for conspiracy to intercept communications. Both of these men wanted Google to remove any reference to these convictions from the search results.

The case was closed this past Friday, with Mr. Justice Warby insisting that Google remove the results of NT2, but not NT1. The judge believed that the information about NT1 was of public interest, while the information about NT2 was not. Obviously, this decision will see appeals, and it is possible that the ruling will not stand. If it does, it will create a swarm of new cases in the EU of people with convictions hoping to make the internet forget.

Billy Mitchell's Reputation MAMEd by Emulation Software and Lies

posted Saturday Apr 14, 2018 by Scott Ertz

If you've ever seen the documentary The King of Kong, you'll recognize the name Billy Mitchell. He is the focus of the film, as he theoretically goes for 2 separate 1 million + point scores on the game Donkey Kong. For over a decade, Mitchell has been recognized as the first player ever to achieve the 1 million point barrier on the game. His scores have been recognized by Donkey King Forum, Twin Galaxies and Guinness World Records.

In February, Donkey King Forum removed Mitchell's high scores following an analysis of the footage submitted to support the score. After watching the video frame-by-frame, it was discovered that there was artifacting during level transitions. This is a scenario that only exists on early versions of the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) system, and not on the original arcade hardware. High scores, however, can only be counted if achieved on arcade hardware.

Following this revelation, Twin Galaxies did their own investigation, and agreed with DKF's analysis. They also discovered what appears to be inconsistencies in the game itself, suggesting that the footage is actually cut together from more than a single run, meaning that the score was completely manipulated, and therefore invalid. Twin Galaxies then removed the high scores from their board and banned Mitchell from appearing in the future, due to a decade of lying about his scores.

This left him with a single forum that recognized his score: Guinness. Unfortunately, Guinness uses Twin Galaxies as part of its verification team for videogame scores. Shortly after Twin Galaxies dismissed the scores, Guinness did, as well, leaving Mitchell with nothing but a documentary about him not accomplishing anything.

Leaked Apple Memo Warns Apple Employees to Stop Leaking Information

posted Saturday Apr 14, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Leaked Apple Memo Warns Apple Employees to Stop Leaking Information

Over the past few years, Apple has had a problem keeping its secrets. Long before a product is officially announced, the market knows the name, the looks and most of the features. In the case of the iPhone X, everyone even knew as early as July that Apple was having design issues with the iPhone, both with the Apple AirPower Qi charging pad (which has still not launched) and the TrueDepth sensor, which ultimately delayed the iPhone X by months.

Since then, Apple has managed to contain information within the company - at least enough to keep analysts guessing about their plans. This has come, at least in part, from Apple's internal attitude towards leakers, and their response when it happens. Last year, the company caught 29 leakers, which resulted in terminations and 12 arrests. Obviously, with a termination for leaking information or any arrest, getting another job in the tech industry will be nearly impossible.

This information comes to us care of possibly the best irony of the week: a leaked internal memo. In the memo, which was published to the company's internal blog, they outlined a number of examples of leaked information, including a meeting in which Craig Federighi informed employees about feature delay. The memo follows a company meeting in 2017 where they tried to deal with the issue. Since then, hundreds of articles have been published about devices that have been unannounced and internal issues.

This change is definitely a win for Apple. Leaked product specs, and unannounced products, can have a negative effect on device sales. People are less likely to purchase current generation devices if they consciously know that a replacement device is on the horizon. Apple saw this behavior with information that they kind-of leaked themselves, when they announced the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, but said that the iPhone X would not come out for several months after the iPhone 8. That move negatively affected sales of the iPhone 8 until the iPhone X released, when people could make an educated decision (and usually skipped the iPhone X).

Startup MoviePass Acquires Moviefone for Only $1 Million

posted Friday Apr 6, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Startup MoviePass Acquires Moviefone for Only $1 Million

When Verizon purchased AOL and created their nostalgia unit, formally called Oath, the company was looking for content production. It was just one of many examples of "line owners" looking to get into the content production market. AT&T purchased DirecTV, intending to enhance their distribution, and wants Time Warner for the content.

Obviously with the purchase of a company as large and sprawling as AOL comes some unwanted baggage. For example, part of AOL was the long-running Moviefone brand, a company that provides remote movie access. Originally provided through the phone number 777-FILM (famously parodied on Seinfeld), the company shifted to online and mobile movie information and shut down the phone number in 2014.

This week, Verizon was able to unload the brand, which does not serve the Oath purpose of being a content producer, on a startup that many people erroneously have called Moviefone for months: MoviePass. This company allows you to pay a certain amount per month to see "unlimited movies" in theaters (though you are actually limited to a single film per day). Verizon let the brand go for only $1 million, a massive loss for the AOL brand, which purchased the company in 1999 for $388 million.

The Moviefone acquisition makes a lot of sense, and not just for the existing brand confusion. By combining the informational partnerships of Moviefone with the theater viewing experience of MoviePass, subscribers to the service can get a lot more information about the movies they are considering seeing without having to leave the MoviePass environment. They can also leverage the Moviefone userbase to encourage subscriptions to the MoviePass service.

MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe said of the purchase,

This natural alignment between MoviePass and Moviefone will help us grow our subscriber base significantly and expand our marketing and advertising platform for our studio and brand partners. Moviefone has been a go-to resource for entertainment enthusiasts for years, and we're excited to bolster its presence and bring this iconic platform into the entertainment ecosystem of the future.

Of course, the next important step is to successfully leverage the buyout. MoviePass has had some troubles attracting new customers. Recently, they resorted to a price reduction for a full-year purchase. Obviously they have had some success with it, but they will need to retain growth to be able to stick around at all, let alone validate the purchase of an iconic brand like Moviefone. Hopefully those plans will not include the controversial user tracking feature in the long-term.

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